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In Search of Silver Linings

As a global community, we continue to be gobsmacked by the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like you, my wife and I are in isolation, whether due to fear or unprecedented precaution. I venture to the grocery store every couple of weeks. But, other than those excursions that require a facial mask and gloves, we are staying home, doing our part to flatten that fateful curve.

(BTW: My wife is recovering from the illness that caused me to interrupt these posts a couple of weeks ago. Though she has not been tested, her physician is confident, based on her symptoms and the similarities of the experiences of the doctor herself who did test positive for this corona virus, that she suffered from COVID.)

This circumstance affords all of us ample opportunity to think. As I craft facial masks to be donated to those on the front lines who may be under-protected, I find my mind preoccupied with two questions:

  • What should we be learning from this experience?

  • Is there a silver lining imbedded in all of this?

There are definitive answers to both of these questions. I am convinced that, however dire and uncertain today’s reality is, we must pay attention, ask questions, probe for answers and reach for a silver lining. Because when this is over, we will not return to normal as we have known it. We will begin a “new normal” in every aspect of our society. Not necessarily deficient or negative, but different nonetheless. Education will not be an exception.

How many times, over the span of how many years, have those of us in the field of education been confronted with the notion that there is a need for significant reform of the practices of our profession? I don’t have a number. So, let’s just settle on “frequent” or “numerous” or even “relentless.” However annoying, these cries for reform are well placed, accurate and sincere. I have to believe, based on three decades of experience collaborating with literally hundreds of dedicated education colleagues, that we all agree. We know that many of our current practices are outdated and maybe even inadequate. We know that there are better methods that we could employ. We know that our students are inheriting a world that is far different from the one that was passed to us. We might even wish that we could move toward the light of meaningful reform. But, reality gets in the way. The rationalizations and excuses (both valid and manufactured) for maintaining the status quo become insurmountable obstacles. “There’s not enough time. We don’t have the necessary resources. I’m too busy. Our plate is already full.”

All of the above are true. Their truth becomes justification for inaction. Until now.

What happened with this pandemic? Everything was moving along fine, with the predictability of tradition and the comfort of familiarity. Then, suddenly, everything stopped. BAM! Yesterday we were doing what we do. Today, we’re stopped dead in our tracks. Schools are suddenly closed. Everything that we know about schooling is suspended. In the space of minutes, all that we believe and think we know about how kids learn and should be taught is upended. Full stop.

Sometimes, this is exactly the way the universe behaves. It demands that we change. It forces us to do things differently. I know this has happened to me at key points in my life. Perhaps it has happened to you, as well. That’s what is occurring now. We are faced, and not by choice, with a need, a requirement, to alter our course.

Gradually, we have eased out of a state of full stop isolation into a new reality of instruction. It’s not an environment that practitioners are universally prepared for. It certainly is contrary to the traditional practices that we trust and revere. As we slowly begin to re-engage with kids in the enterprise of learning, our profession is forced to utilize largely unfamiliar technologies. Classrooms are now virtual. Learning is not in person. It is now distant.


What does all of this mean?

I have no idea. But, it’s the right question to ask. And, along with that question must be the next one. Now what? What does education look like in our “new normal?”

Again, I don’t know. But, we must figure it out while we have the luxury of time to examine this dilemma and to craft some reasonable responses. Responses that are relevant to questions like:.

  • How do we re-open physical schools in the absence of an effective vaccine or verified herd immunity?

  • How do we achieve social distancing to protect students and staff within our existing classroom configurations and staffing allocations?

  • What is the integral